When you sit down to play an RPG, you often expect to spend hours upon hours watching cut scenes, reading dialogue and being drawn into a complicated tale with plenty of twists, turns and false endings. It's this extreme time commitment that keeps many people away from the genre, and I can't even count how many of my friends have told me that they haven't played an RPG in years simply because they "don't have that kind of time." Half-Minute Hero does away with that excuse, offering a funny, quirky and surprisingly enjoyable game … all in 30 seconds or less.
Half-Minute Hero is basically broken down into four entirely different games. Hero mode is the closest thing resembling a traditional RPG, but at a Mach-3 pace. Princess mode is basically a high-speed shooting gallery, Evil Lord mode is RTS-lite and Knight mode is a fast-paced action game. What makes these various options of play so great is that they are different enough to make each stand out on its own, but at the same time, they're all connected through an overarching story line and some intrinsic character connections that won't become clear until you completely clear the game.
Since Hero mode is the game's bread and butter, let's take a little time examining it more in depth. A particularly nefarious villain is running around and teaching evil lords a spell that will allow them to destroy the world in 30 seconds. Of course, an unlikely hero springs up and vows to defeat bad guys in succession until the world is safe once more. The only problem is that our potential savior must level up, buy equipment, locate each stage's evil lord and defeat him all in the span of a half-minute.
Thankfully, the hero has some help in the form of the Time Goddess. This benevolent, if slightly greedy, deity will turn back the clock and give players a fresh 30 seconds every time the hero prays to one of her statues. The only catch is that good deeds aren't free, and the cost to reverse time goes up every time the hero offers a prayer. Thus, each stage consists of "grinding" (if you can even call it that) through random enemies and seeking out the evil lord, all while sprinting from town to town (where time is paused) in order to buy new gear, gather info from townsfolk about how to stop the resident baddie and restore the ever-ticking clock.
Battles are also streamlined so as to minimize wasted time, as cumbersome commands for attacking, defending or using magic have all been thrown out. Instead, your hero and his enemies merely bash into each other repeatedly until one side's HP is depleted and that character goes flying off-screen. The only time players even need to touch the controller is to use the one HP-restoring item you're allowed to bring along or in case you need to flee from battle. Aside from that, the game pretty much takes care of itself.
Each of the other modes has play styles distinct from the hero's adventure, but they all maintain the 30-second window for success. Evil Lord mode allows players to conjure monsters in one of three classes in order to defeat the human interlopers. The whole system is set up on a standard rock-paper-scissors format, and it's easy to determine just by looking at your enemies what types of monsters will be most effective. Princess mode tasks you with heading out from the castle, grabbing an item or defeating a boss and making it back in one piece all before the timer runs dry. Basic mechanics will likely remind players of the shooters of old, with enemies flying in from all directions and various power-ups to snag while speeding by. It's not a tremendously complicated mode, but it'll scratch that fast-twitch muscle itch. Finally, Knight mode changes up things a bit by tasking you to protect a sage who's casting his own spell that takes, coincidentally, 30 seconds to unleash. While you can beat back baddies with rocks, sticks or special items you make before battle, the safer bet is to simply grab the sage, throw him on your back and sprint to a safe locale. The only thing is that he can't cast while you're moving him, so you have to eventually hold your ground until he can get the spell off.
While all the modes are entertaining, it's clear that the most work went into the Hero stages. The levels in the other modes are almost always incredibly simple, but the Hero missions often require some careful preparation and thought, which is unexpected in a game with such simple mechanics. It's actually incredibly refreshing, though, to know that simplicity can still exist in a great game.
Further enhancing the experience is the game's humor and visual charm. The script is very funny, and characters will gladly break the fourth wall at unexpected and entertaining moments. Also, each sprite oozes personality, which is impressive considering just how little dialogue is in this title when compared to a standard RPG. There are no wasted moments and no empty speeches about grand concepts and murky ideologies; they're simply well-rounded characters indulging in their own unique personality quirks.
The game's visual style is entertaining in its own way, as the title once again takes convention and turns it on its head. Each mode is introduced with carefully crafted, lovingly detailed still shots of the various characters. Players are then thrown into a completely retro 8-bit world, complete with characters so heavily pixelated that sometimes you aren't even sure of their gender. While the transition is somewhat jarring, it's done in a comical and entertaining way, designed to amuse rather than frustrate. It actually complements the game quite nicely, and I really can't see another animation style that would fit in with a game such as this.
For everyone claiming to be "too busy" for games these days, Half-Minute Hero may be exactly the title you need. The title's bite-sized action will hook you right from the start, and once you start playing, this is really one of those games that's extremely difficult to put down (especially since you know that the next level is only 30 seconds long). The game's only minor weakness is that Hero mode makes the other three pale in comparison, but if you judge each by its own merits, they're all incredibly fun. You can now also save the world in 30 seconds, and haven't you always wanted to do that?
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